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Lionel Messi doubtful for Barcelona’s La Liga opener

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Lionel Messi is still recovering from injury and it will be “difficult” for him to return in time for Barcelona’s La Liga opener, says coach Ernesto Valverde.

Messi sustained a calf strain prior to Barcelona’s USA pre-season tour and missed the trip stateside. Fueling fears over the Argentine was the club’s refusal to give a timetable for his possible return.

It marks an unwelcome blow for Messi considering he had only returned to Camp Nou last weekend. Previously, Barcelona had given him an extended summer vacation after helping Argentina to a third-place Copa America finish.

The five-time Ballon d’Or winner sat on the bench for last weekend’s 2-1 friendly win against Arsenal. He then picked up his unfortunate injury shortly after returning to the training field on Monday.

Now, Valverde concedes it will “difficult” to see Messi make a timely return to action for Barcelona’s trip to Athletic Bilbao.

“He’s in the recovery process and I don’t know if he will be ready for the start of La Liga,” said Valverde, according to Sport.

“It’s looking difficult.”

Even without Messi, though, Barcelona won both of their friendlies against Napoli in the USA. Saturday’s one, especially, was a highlight as Valverde’s side cruised to a dominant 4-0 win in Michigan.

All four goals came inside 15 second-half minutes, with Luis Suarez leading the charge with a brace. Ousmane Dembele was also on target for Barcelona.

But the biggest moment, arguably, came when Antoine Griezmann scored his first Blaugrana goal. The French forward had struggled to get off the mark in his first four games after completing his €120m transfer from Atletico Madrid.

“The scorers always feed on the opportunities, the goals. We are happy with him,” Valverde said on Griezmann.

“He gives us a lot for unchecking and defensively works well.”